Long road ahead
by Scott Younger
The recent annual return from the villages at the end of Ramadhan and Idul Fitri once again has highlighted the critical state of Indonesia’s land transportation, especially in Java with 7 million leaving the cities before the Idul Fitri festival and the same number, plus a few additional family members, returning.
What is most striking is the extraordinary patience shown by road travelers sitting in many kilometers of tailbacks. Not so readily appreciated is that the additional road capacity needed to serve land transport needs in the future is significantly greater than that already shown on the latest master plans, which in themselves still have many key connections waiting to be constructed.
Unfortunately, it looks as if the country will always be behind requirement well into the foreseeable future.
Quality and glaring shortage of routes
There are several key problems with the country’s road infrastructure. These can be highlighted as:
- The poor quality of too much of the network with an unacceptable level of partially or badly damaged sections, especially off Java, coupled with inadequate care and maintenance applied to the network. It is worth noting that some 92% of the network is comprised of provincial and district roads, largely the latter, and therefore since regionalization with little or no linkage to the higher level skills available at central level. The budget is available, and has tripled over the past three years, but application is not, as periodically reported in the press. The jurisdiction for the dominant district network lies with the regency governments, but there has been no upgrading of skills in most of these for over a decade, despite central government understanding of the various management issues. Therein lies a key part of the problem, a lack of operational function between the center and the regions on jurisdictional lines, as well as lack of proper accountability, acceptance of outdated practices and lack of a proper regional construction industry.
- Shortage of network. It is essential to bear in mind the rate of growth experienced in the 1990s before the 1997/8 Asian economic crisis and now once more being achieved, and to take note of the lack of network, which amounts to at least 500,000 km, to quote from several government pronouncements over the years. The account, drawn from government sources, shows the development of the road network over the past 40 years, and the picture is revealing.
The first thing that comes to mind is how little attention was paid to Indonesia’s roads for over 30 years following independence, since establishing and cementing the fabric of the newly independent country was of necessity the most important issue at the time.
The figures also quite clearly mark where there was a real effort in the upgrading and expansion of the network over the decade of the 1980s when many programs with multinational assistance were taking place across the country.
However, there was a generally unnoticed change in emphasis through the 1990s, following liberalization of the economy in 1989, when there became an increasing focus on engaging of the private sector, especially for the development of the high-value toll road sector.
Following the success of the much earlier Jagorawi (completed in 1978) and the East Java toll road from Sura baya to Gempol, key links were added, especially around the city of Jakarta and in West Java, most notably the Bandung by-pass.
Sadly, the 1997/8 crisis put paid to a further large program of toll road development, with 35 concessions either being permanently cancelled or deferred, with no progress in the years that followed, and little even after the economy recovered.
Part of the problem then, of course, was the awarding of contracts to parties which either did not have the technical or financial wherewithal or frequently the absence of both to provide project delivery.
However, the picture also reveals another interesting fact. In line with the change in emphasis to the toll road sector in the 1990s: there appears to have been a very marked slowdown in work relating to the rest of the network - the dotted line indicates schematically what really needed to be done in continuing the 1980s upgrading aggressively through the 1990s leading to further expansion. This would have contributed significantly towards producing the larger network required today.
The five years after the 1997/8 crisis saw very little activity in the roads sector, and much of the further expansion shown has taken place since the mid 2000s, although still leaving the network well short of requirements.
Over the past three years or so the budget ascribed to the regions for infrastructure development, with a high proportion of it for the roads sector, has increased threefold. However, the results have not been manifest in any network improvement. On the contrary in some places the percentage of deterioration has increased, the reasons for which were highlighted above.
There remain many structural improvements to organization and systems to be carried through to ensure that the country starts seeing a decent return on investment in regional roads, and a staunching of the ‘bleeding’ currently taking place.
Toll Road update
This month has seen the announcement that government plans (again?) to see the start of construction of six toll roads in 2012, the long-awaited missing link on the Jakarta Outer Ring Road, W2 between Ulujami and Kebon Jeruk topping the list. The economic loss due to the long delay to building this link has been huge.
Other key links include the proposed six Jakarta city links, for which bidding is to commence, and the key long-awaited Trans-Java link extending eastward from Cikampek to Palimanan.
Featuring also in the announcement was the 60-km link from Cileunyi to Dawuan, important for linking the city of Bandung to the northeast and the proposed site of a new international airport. This route will need significant government-level support since the cost of construction compared with the initial traffic conditions make it difficult to attract private sector investment in the normal way.
Land Acquisition law
I am continually being asked what has happened to the long-awaited new Land Acquisition Law, considering it was supposed to emerge from the legislature last July, before the fasting month.
A preview of its conditions would imply a significant improvement to the conclusion of land purchase negotiations, particularly important for toll road developments. The signing of the Law is necessary before the various implementing regulations are put in place and these will take time.
It looks like 2013 before the new process will be implemented, but I would like to be surprised and find the system all ready to go before that, as it should be.
Finally, roads at whatever level, along with ports, are absolutely vital to the country’s forward economic growth. It is to be hoped that serious development on all the long-delayed key links will occur. But will this happen?
“Roads at whatever level, along with ports, are absolutely vital to the country’s forward economic growth”.
Scott Younger is the president commissioner of Glendale Partners and Nusantara Infrastructure.
(source: Globe Asia, October 2011)